Walking through Portsmouth was a strange experience for me, for even though it was my first visit I felt as if I'd been here many times before. This historic city holds a deep personal connection, forged long before I was born, for I had grown up hearing so much about it from my parents.
Soon after my parents were married in 1951, my dad (an officer in the Indian Navy) was posted near Portsmouth for two years. They sailed out from Bombay aboard HMS Cilicia, a long voyage filled with excitement and anticipation for the adventures that lay ahead.
Their stay here was full of wonderful discoveries of a new culture, new sights, new foods and new friends, which they have always remembered very fondly.
Seeing old photographs and hearing their stories has always made me want to visit Portsmouth too and follow their footsteps for a little while.
Portsmouth certainly lived up to the image I had painted in my mind. We started off by exploring its historic Royal Naval Dockyard which is now a museum devoted to Britain's maritime past. There you can see ships dating back centuries and understand how closely Britain's history and economy were tied to the sea.
The most famous exhibit is the Victory, Nelson's flagship at the battle of Trafalgar, which was key in defeating the French and making Britain the greatest power in the world during the nineteenth century. It is fascinating to walk through the ship and see the cabins where Nelson planned his battles and the gun decks where cannons roared.
Surrounding the dockyard are old inns that have stood there for centuries and housed generations of sailors. Names such as "The Spice Island Inn" recall the times when these docks were piled high with products from around the world, including pepper and cardamom from India and nutmeg, mace and cloves from the Indonesian islands.
The streets are lined with lovely old pubs, so full of character that you have a strong urge to shout "Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum"! Pubs have been operating on the street leading into the dockyards since the 1600s, with The Ship Anson very popular these days.
A delightfully cosy pub, it features award winning pies on the menu, which we thoroughly enjoyed. During our travels in England, we also came across lamb Rogan Josh pies in many pubs, reminding us how creatively Indian cuisine has transcended the two cultures.
One of the most popular dishes of Indian cuisine and the mainstay of Indian restaurants the world over, Lamb Rogan Josh is richly flavoured and easy to make (don't let the long list of ingredients fool you!). It tastes even better the next day so you can make it ahead and relax while the flavours do the work. And if you want to transform leftovers into a delicious pie, well...we might just come over!
Lamb Rogan Josh
2 tbsp oil
4 each, whole spices: cardamom, cloves
1/2 inch stick cinnamon
1 each, whole spices: dried mace (optional), star anise
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 inch piece ginger, minced
1 1/2 lb boneless leg of lamb, cut into bite sized pieces
Salt to taste
1 tsp each, ground spices: coriander, cumin, garam masala, fennel, dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)
1/2 tsp each, ground spices: cardamom, cayenne pepper, Kashmiri chilli powder or paprika, dried ground ginger
A pinch of saffron strands
1/4 cup each: thick canned tomato puree (or use 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes), Greek style plain full fat yogurt (or use Labneh)
2 tbsp each: ground almonds, chopped fresh coriander leaves, fresh lemon juice
Warm oil in deep, heavy skillet or saucepan set over medium heat.
Add whole cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, mace (if using) and star anise. Sizzle for 30 sec, then add onions, garlic and ginger. Saute for 5 min until lightly browned and slightly softened.
Add lamb, salt to taste, all of the ground spices and saffron. Brown for 5 min.
Add tomato puree and yogurt. Stir for 5 min until the liquid has been absorbed by the lamb.
Add 1 cup of water and the ground almonds. Mix well, cover and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. If the sauce is starting to stick to the bottom of the pan, add another 1/2 cup of water. Cover and cook again on low heat for another hour, stirring occasionally. The lamb should be very tender and the sauce thickened.
Fold in the fresh coriander leaves and lemon juice.
Note: the whole spices are not meant to be eaten in this dish